Lower Canada’s ‘dairy wall’, se­na­tor urges U.S. trade team

Winnipeg Free Press - - NEWS - ALEXAN­DER PANETTA

WASH­ING­TON — A se­nior se­na­tor is de­mand­ing changes that would open Canada’s dairy mar­ket as part of any new NAFTA and is urg­ing Amer­i­can trade ne­go­tia­tors to hold the line in the fi­nal stages of bar­gain­ing.

Sen­ate Demo­crat Chuck Schumer has sent a let­ter on the is­sue to U.S. trade czar Robert Lighthizer amid some fears that his ne­go­ti­at­ing team is soft­en­ing.

His re­quest il­lus­trates the on­go­ing dif­fer­ences be­tween the coun­tries, de­spite pre­dic­tions about a deal be­ing close, in­clud­ing from U.S. Vice-Pres­i­dent Mike Pence, who over the week­end said an agree­ment could be achieved within weeks.

Schumer is urg­ing the U.S. team to seize a rare op­por­tu­nity to lower what he calls Canada’s “dairy wall” — and says open­ing up the mar­ket must be a top pri­or­ity.

“Se­cur­ing mean­ing­ful and en­force­able com­mit­ments that will al­low U.S. dairy pro­duc­ers to com­pete with Canada’s on a level play­ing field should be a top pri­or­ity in NAFTA rene­go­ti­a­tions,” Schumer wrote in the let­ter, which he re­leased pub­licly Mon­day.

“As I have ex­pressed to you many times, I strongly be­lieve that we should not miss this op­por­tu­nity to pro­tect our dairy pro­duc­ers from Canada’s re­cent preda­tory trade prac­tices.”

Schumer isn’t the only lead­ing leg­is­la­tor for whom it is a pri­or­ity; the Repub­li­can Speaker of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, Paul Ryan, is from the dairy-pro­duc­ing state of Wis­con­sin and also con­sid­ers it a key is­sue.

The view of Amer­i­can law­mak­ers mat­ters in a trade ne­go­ti­a­tion.

U.S. law re­quires that they must even­tu­ally rat­ify any agree­ment and that they be con­sulted through­out the bar­gain­ing process by Amer­i­can trade ne­go­tia­tors.

Lighthizer told law­mak­ers at a re­cent hear­ing that dairy will likely be one of the fi­nal is­sues to be re­solved. He ex­pressed some un­der­stand­ing that the topic is po­lit­i­cally sen­si­tive in Canada, where the dairy in­dus­try is con­cen­trated in the two most pop­u­lous prov­inces, On­tario and Que­bec.

Some of Lighthizer’s own col­leagues are sig­nalling the U.S. might not get the changes it wants.

“I’m not as op­ti­mistic as I’d like to be,” Agri­cul­ture Sec­re­tary Sonny Per­due told an­other con­gres­sional hear­ing last week when asked about dairy.

“We have im­pressed upon Am­bas­sador Lighthizer, al­most on a weekly ba­sis, how im­por­tant it is to get the dairy sit­u­a­tion (set­tled) with Canada. (But) he has some larger is­sues (in these ne­go­ti­a­tions).

“I think we would love to have any other help in im­press­ing upon (Lighthizer) how im­por­tant it is to make sure the dairy sit­u­a­tion in re­gard to Canada is also re­solved.”

A few days af­ter that re­quest, Schumer re­leased his let­ter.

The coun­tries do not have free trade in dairy — and the U.S. is call­ing for two changes.

Over the longer term, it wants the elim­i­na­tion of Canada’s sup­ply-man­age­ment sys­tem. The sys­tem lim­its com­pe­ti­tion, but guar­an­tees sta­bil­ity on Cana­dian farms by cap­ping im­ports, im­pos­ing tar­iffs and set­ting prices at the gro­cery store.

The shorter-term U.S. ob­jec­tive is to get Canada to elim­i­nate its spe­cial rule al­low­ing byprod­ucts for cheese­mak­ing, skimmed off milk, to be sold at mar­ket prices.

The Cana­dian gov­ern­ment’s view is that the U.S. also pro­tects its dairy mar­ket in other ways, such as prices­ta­bi­liza­tion pro­grams and coun­selling ser­vices when prices crash and farms face col­lapse. Some Cana­dian in­dus­try de­fend­ers point to analy­ses that say U.S. farm­ers con­sis­tently sell dairy at be­low-mar­ket prices, be­cause they ben­e­fit from a patchwork of poli­cies to keep them profitable.

SEAN KIL­PATRICK / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau (left) and French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron agreed Mon­day to push to meet the Paris cli­mate ac­cord’s goals.

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